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1.4: Emergent Literacy Areas

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    The National Literacy Panel (2010) defined literacy by identifying and defining skills, both in the earliest stages as precursor skills and later stages as conventional skills. We can examine behaviors evident in emergent literacy, including three broad areas of literacy skills: language development, reading, and writing, which can be further broken down into specific indicators.

    Vignette: What’s on the Menu?

    Marvin and Maria are playing in the dramatic play area. Marvin and Maria are both cooking, and Marvin brings a plate of food to the stuffed bear seated at the table. Marvin looks at the bear and says, “Do you want ketchup?” Maria shakes her head and says, “We don’t have ketchup.” Marvin speaks for the bear and says, “But, ketchup is on the menu.” Marvin walks over to the stack of menus that are part of the play area and mimics reading the menu. He then says, “Ketchup is not on the menu.” He then scribbles on a small strip of paper and gives it to the stuffed bear saying, “Here is your bill.” Maria responds, “K-ketchup! K-ketchup! K-ketchup!” in a sing-song voice as they continue to play.

    This interaction displays many of the characteristics of emergent literacy behaviors. Marvin and Maria are engaging in conversation and connecting stories to their experiences. They pretend to read and pretend to write as well as use oral language to communicate their ideas. These types of social exchanges provide an opportunity to practice the behaviors that will help prepare children to proficiently read and write.

    1.4a Language Development

    Language development tends to be conceptualized as receptive language, expressive language, and the interaction between communicators. Receptive language involves receiving, interpreting, comprehending and decoding. Expressive language is the production or encoding of information. Speaking, listening, and non-verbal communication allow children the opportunity to use words and gestures to express ideas and feelings. Language requires an understanding of vocabulary (choice of words), context (how and when words are used), and language conventions (rules for using words in meaningful ways). For example, a child may use different vocabulary or tone of voice with a sibling than they might with a stranger or a grandparent. Language may also be non-verbal through sign language, gestures, and non-verbal cues (facial expressions and body language). Language development is pivotal to a child’s reading and writing development. In the vignette above, we see that Marvin and Maria are using language to express and receive information as they debate whether or not ketchup is on the menu.

    Pause and Reflect: Early Communication

    As you interact with young children, how attuned are you to their facial expressions? Do you notice their gestures such as pointing? Do you review their non-verbal reactions such as squeals and eye gaze? Children “speak” in many different ways even beyond the use of words. What strategies can we use to make sure we are listening to what they need us to know?

    1.4b Reading

    Children engaging in pre-reading activities.

    Reading is a complex process. It requires readers to continually decode and comprehend a written message. Decoding requires the reader to connect letter symbols and sounds, while comprehension involves understanding the meaning of written text. The report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) identified five key components of reading. These five areas are (a) phonemic awareness, (b) phonics, (c) fluency, (d) vocabulary, and (e) comprehension. While these five components are important, the original report did not address emergent reading practices in birth to five-year-old children. A more expansive definition of reading would include a variety of observable behaviors and skills exhibited before a child can connect sound-symbol relationships or become fluent readers. Children are engaging in many pre-reading tasks and preparing for conventional reading in their earliest years. The report of the National Early Literacy Panel indicated that preconventional reading skills include print concepts, alphabet knowledge, print knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and oral language (National Institute for Literacy, 2008). When Marvin picks up the menu to “read it,” he is engaging in emergent reading behaviors.

    Pause and Connect: Predictors of Literacy Success

    This video from Eastern Connecticut State University outlines five predictors of early literacy success. They closely parallel the reading skills defined by the National Early Literacy Panel above.

    Summarize and define these predictors. Identify the predictor that was not included in the panel’s report as well. Which additional skill was identified by the panel? What are your thoughts on this difference?

    1.4c Writing

    Writing center © Unsplash is licensed under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license

    Writing progresses in stages and in a bidirectional fashion with reading. While reading is a manner of receiving communication, writing offers a way to represent and produce communication visually. Sulzby and Teale (1991) indicate that scribbling as intentional writing can be observed in children as young as 18 months. They go on to say that scribbling represents the beginnings of writing for most children. Eventually, children will move from scribbling to increasingly sophisticated markings in order to communicate meaning to themselves or others. In the example with Marvin and Maria above, Marvin acts out this expectation of shared meaning when he hands the teddy bear a bill. These emergent writing behaviors help prepare children for conventional writing later.

    This page titled 1.4: Emergent Literacy Areas is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sandra Carrie Garvey (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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